Fundamentally superficial – University of Copenhagen

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01 September 2011

Fundamentally superficial

For some people beauty is much less than skin deep. New Assistant Professor at the Department of Chemistry Nicolas Bovet is one. He is fascinated by surfaces, and as far as he is concerned anything deeper than ten nanometres is practically buried.

Nicolas Bovet with his X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy device

Since coming to Copenhagen to a postdoc position in 2008 Bovet has specialized in investigating surface compositions. He works in ultrahigh vacuum, which is about like the conditions of outer space, with a range of surface sensitive techniques. The main one these days is XPS. If ever there was a tool to examine surface chemistry, that’s the one.

Fluids on biosurfaces 

XPS or X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy has traditionally been reserved for physicists, but at the NanoGeoScience group they use the technique to answer fundamental questions about the interactions between fluids and minerals, especially in natural materials such as oil reservoirs, bone and teeth, and this is one aspect that Bovet enjoys.
"I used to work with a similar instrument in physics, doing stuff so fundamental that it might see use in applications a hundred years from now. What we are doing here is also fundamental but it is so close to being applicable, that I can even explain it to my mother", smiles Nicolas Bovet.

Difficult technique with huge rewards

Working with the XPS is far from easy though.
"You can’t just slip a sample into the tray and push a button. The analysis takes place in a high vacuum, so you have to be very careful", explains the new Assistant Professor.
This care is one reason why researchers from other groups are starting to discover the skills of Nicolas Bovet. Another being that he genuinely wants to collaborate in any of the many areas where XPS is applicable, but he is taking care not to accept too many projects.
"It’s very important for me to make sure I have time for teaching as well. Not just because I like it, but also because the interaction with students is very inspiring", explains Bovet, who is currently teaching the finer points of XPS to a class of physicists as well as classes in geochemistry. Nicolas Bovet lives in Malmø with his wife Helene and his two daughters, Lilou, 8 months, and Elisa, 3 ½ years. .